WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A senior Justice Department official who resigned Wednesday after being criticized for his role in a botched anti-gun-trafficking operation said he was being singled out because U.S. officials needed someone up high to blame.
Jason Weinstein, who served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, quit after being faulted by the department’s inspector general in a report released Wednesday on ”Operation Fast and Furious.
The mismanaged operation let straw purchasers buy semi-automatic weapons in an effort to interdict gun traffic between the U.S. and Mexico but failed to track them as they fell into the hands of drug gangs, creating a risk to public safety, the report said.
The report said 14 officials, including Weinstein, had reason to question the bungled operation but failed to do so.
Weinstein called the report a “complete distortion of the facts.”
“For reasons that are completely incomprehensible to me, and are based on considerations other than the evidence, the ... report identifies me as the senior official at Main Justice who supposedly knew enough that I could have - and should have - done more to figure out what was actually happening in Operation Fast and Furious,” Weinstein said in a statement.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.
Another senior Justice official, Kenneth Melson, who was also criticized by the inspector general’s findings, retired on Wednesday. He had been pushed out in August 2011 as acting director of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and recently worked on forensic policy for the department.
The report recommended consideration of internal discipline for Weinstein’s boss, Lanny Breuer, who heads the Criminal Division.
In his statement, Weinstein said he had been singled out for punishment “because of the desire to blame someone of rank within” senior Justice Department leadership.
“y only knowledge about Fast and Furious consisted of repeated false assurances from those who supervised the investigation...,” he said.
Weinstein, a career prosecutor, spent 15 years with the Justice Department. In his last post, he oversaw the Criminal Division’s activities against gangs.
Along with the statement, Weinstein’s attorney, former Justice Department Inspector General Michael Bromwich, released a 32-page memo detailing what it described as errors in a draft version of the full report.
Reporting By Aruna Viswanatha. Editing by Fred Barbash and Philip Barbara